Re: The future

Subject: Re: The future
From: Jill Burgchardt <jburgcha -at- PESTILENCE -dot- ITC -dot- NRCS -dot- USDA -dot- GOV>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998 17:16:05 -0600

Ian Ferguson pointed out a futuristic site "designed by a 19 year old kid"

then Mary Macanek wrote:

This seems like biting the hand that feeds. Who do they think their
potential customers are? In tech writing, knowing that our users are a
diverse lot, we are used to aiming toward a (possibly low) common
denominator. Exclusion for the sake of a 'future' look isn't justified.

Whether it's our users as audience, our employers as audience, or
ourselves as audience, the bottom line on many techwr-l discussions seems
to come down to "it depends on the audience."

I spent some time this week working with a high school technical writing
class. I evaluated their work and provided feedback in a one-on-one
setting. Without exception, the most serious flaw I encountered was lack
of audience adaptation. I didn't expect perfection, of course, but dealing
with 16 year olds reminded me how much I've had to learn.

For example, one student identified organizers of high school dances,
company parties, wedding receptions, anniversary parties, and family
reunions as the audience for a brochure advertising mobile disc jockey
services. The brochure promoted one aspect of the service: loud equipment
(woofers, bass, power amps). It was difficult to convince her that not
everyone attending these events (or paying for them) would find volume
appealing or even positive. As she told me, she'd want to go to a wedding
reception with loud music. I wanted her to see a larger audience or
recognize that she might need two brochures to reach different audiences,
but I think she just thought she was dealing with an old lady who was of
touch (my kids would sometimes agree with her).

Audience analysis is hard to teach to individuals who have little
experience beyond their own peers. It uses experience, an open mind, and
research. Without experience and/or an open mind many writers assume the
potential customer has the same values, interests, materials/equipment as
the writer, EXCEPT where research uncovers obvious differences.

So, how do we get outside the box of our own experience when we analyze

How do we identify hidden alienating assumptions?

How do we turn that into a methodology we can work with?

I've read books that address it, but at some point it seems to be "good
instincts." I'd like to hear other people's ideas for developing those
instincts that would help us move from doing an adequate job to doing a
superb job with audience analysis.


Jill Burgchardt
jburgcha -at- pestilence -dot- itc -dot- nrcs -dot- usda -dot- gov

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